Monday, 1 March 2010

Gina, MacDonald Hotel Spa, February 2010

It's probably a sign of our recessionary times that about half the spas in the country seem to be doing some kind of BOGOF or other special offer. This trip to the Macdonald Hotel spa, down the road from Piccadilly station, came via ManchesterConfidential rather than my usual source of bargains,, and at £80 for two people to have hour-long treatments and use of the spa facilities it seemed like a decent deal.

Both Ruth and I went for full body massages as our treatments (I think the alternative was some kind of facial). Ruth seemed to find hers fine, and commented that she particularly liked the warm Decleor 'detox balm' which was used instead of oil for the massages, and leaves you less oily and smelling nicely of essential oils including lemongrass, patchouli and rosemary. My therapist was Gina, and she was excellent – more flexible in adapting the massage to my needs than most hotel spa massage-givers I've encountered. I got a perfectly good back and shoulder massage, concentrating on my horrible knotted upper back, and then an exceptionally good leg and arm massage, more comprehensive than others I've had and using lots of twisting motions and bracing to really get into the muscles, but without pinching the way some limb massages can. Finishing the massage off with eye pads soaked in something cool and soothing was a nice touch.

So, that was the good bit. Unfortunately the rest of the experience didn't particularly live up to it. The Macdonald Hotel spa itself is in a separate section of the building from the main reception, and I guess if you're coming from the hotel it would be fine – you'd simply go along the building and get the lift down. But coming from the outside as non-residents, we had to come into a sterile-looking little foyer that felt like an unstaffed office black (and let's face it, the building is a refurbished BT office), pressing a buzzer to be let in and then having to figure out that the lift was tucked into corner (or go up a set of car-park-like steep, narrow stairs).

The reception and d├ęcor of most of the place was what I'm coming to recognise as Generic Hotel Spa – lots of dark wood (hopefully stained FSC approved pine; worst case but very possible scenario illegally logged topical hardwood), some bamboo bits and cushions, a couple of stands full of overpriced cosmetics and toiletries, and a selection of random 'stone' Buddha heads and items of mass-produced south-east Asian artwork. Although the reception staff were friendly enough they were also rather scatty and disorganised, apparently forgetting for a while that we might need towels and slippers, announcing that the ManchesterConfidential deal didn't include bathrobes (not their fault but fairly tight and petty of whoever fixed the deal) and generally not giving much sense of being on the ball. The relaxation room – more Buddhas heads and rattan, plus couches, fat furry throws and a rather caffeine-heavy selection of teas – was pleasant enough but nothing special.

The really annoying bit was discovering that the spa area – basically a heat experience area like a mini-version of the one at Titanic I reviewed earlier – was back down the stairs/lift, into a cold and draughty foyer, and set between the two changing rooms down there. This meant that starting with the spa and then coming up for a treatment wouldn't be a very pleasant option, at least in winter, and would involve a certain amount of walking round a fairly public and unattractive entrance area in your bathrobe. The heat experience itself was a tiled wet-zone affair, with a couple of types of sauna (including an infra-red one), an 'experience shower' which was basically a heavy shower with changing lights, and an ice room. Fairly small – it felt a bit weird with the two of us plus a couple who'd obviously been quite pleased to have it to themselves (and who were busy hogging the two heated loungers). And that was it – no pool or larger relaxation area close to the saunas, just the one upstairs in the treatment area. Unfortunately, this spa feels poorly planned and laid, out, shoehorned into the corner of a huge hotel which surely could have spared the space to provide better facilities.

So, I suppose my summary would be that if you're staying at the Macdonald or work in the immediate area and want a good massage, book here and ask for Gina. If, however, you want a spa experience where you can chill out for a few hours and do some serious relaxation, head for the Radisson Sienna over on Peter Street or, for a proper treat, Titanic in Huddersfield. And don't bother with packages that combine the two, because the layout of the building simply isn't suitable for it.

Macdonald Hotel & Spa, London Road, Manchester, M1 2PG, spa phone 0161 272 3280


  1. Another interesting report, thank you.

    I had the same treatment at the standard rate shortly after the spa opened (which was some time after the hotel opened, if I recall correctly).

    A closed door is certainly not welcoming! Part of what makes a good hotel spa good is walking into a swish hotel and straight to spa reception. I expect door buzzers for backstreet masseuses (incidentally, I recommend Holistic Stop), not for posh spas.

    It is indeed poorly laid out. Upstairs there is bags of space, with a large waiting area and a large relaxation room. The treatment rooms were large too. I believe that there is enough room upstairs to house the heat treatments (which could easily be on any floor) and that would have left enough space downstairs for a small pool and hot tub.

    When I went, the usage instruction signs outside the sauna etc suggested users shower before using the swimming pool. It's highly likely most users would, as they'd also have to get dressed and go out to find a hotel that actually has a swimming pool! Clearly they've just used the same signs as other Macdonald spas. Have these been changed yet?

    My main criticism of the venue was that using the facilities in a towel was needlessly difficult. There were no hooks and nowhere to rest a towel whilst showering other than the very wet floor. Having said that, the experience shower was faulty and wouldn't stop, so that may have overwhelmed the poor drainage. Have these issues been addressed?

    You certainly would want a robe to go between the heat experience floor and the treatment floor, unlike Sienna where I could happily just use a towel for the short distance. It's unclear - did you pay extra to have a bathrobe?

  2. Hi Paul,
    thanks for your (as usual) comprehensive comments. On the final question of robes - we were told that our ManchesterConfidential offer didn't include robes, only towels. So I assume that higher-priced treatments/spa deals do include robes, but I didn't enquire as to which ones. I can sort of see why they'd want to keep costs down on a widely offered promo like that, but it seemed a bit jobsworthy...